busy street at 5 PM
the woman was on her motorbike
resting on the terracotta pavement

her forehead sparkled
a drop of sweat
filled with an orange sunset
with leaf and wind
with houses and buildings
a crowded T-junction
and flocks of migrating storks

she wore a black suit
but her bike’s handles
hung blocks
of crème caramels
and her backseat
tied a red box
with chilling milk bottles

I looked at her
and the sunset drop
but I didn’t want to make a guess
of her name
or her job
or her life
or even her suit
so I simply called her
“milk-woman in a black complet”
to keep myself grounded
to heredity
to now
to now
to now and here

Every Brilliant Thing – A theater play review

“Number one”
“Ice-cream!” – A guy pronounced it out loud, looking at a sticky note he just picked up from his chairs. Everyone had one attached somewhere around the audience seats.

“Number six”
“Roller coaster!”

“Number seven”
“Watching people falling over.”

There was a list of things, none of them seemed to be serious in any extents until D invited a female audience to be his assistant. He asked her handbag, then offered her a ballpoint pen, and pretended it to be an injector. He told her to act out the scene of giving the injection to his imaginary “wolf-wolf”, who was being held his two big and shaky arms, weak and breathing interruptedly. He had everyone to imagine his “wolf wolf” taking her very last breath, right on his arms.
My heart fell into complete dead silence.
It was his very first experience of death.

A boy, who was born in a not-so-perfect family, in fact, it was full of blemish. Mom had been suffering from some sorts of chronic depression, thus, he somewhat lost the privilege of being an “ordinary” child. Despite having a thoughtful and empathetic father, he understood he had to be precociously independent and figure out the world himself solely. He created a list of things that make him feel happy. The title was “Every Brilliant Thing”, big, bold and stood out right on the top of the list.

The next scenes were indeed D conducting a “draw my life” in one hour, but instead of drawing, he used his own voice, emotional expressions of an actor, and the audience participation. The show itself had been played several times before I came. However, I heard that every time would happen to be slightly different though, the version (I was watching) was way too natural and smooth to detect any visibility of improvisation.

I would say he successfully engaged everyone’s mood in the “number six”: roller-coaster and the ridiculous story behind that. As much as we laughed, and there were moments of silence. The “Every Brilliant Thing” was filled with on-end changes in its own theme, where happiness is defined very uniquely in different stages of the character’s life. When he was younger, happiness could be as simple as an ice-cream, of which sweetness and a momentary brain freeze would chill a child out so quickly. It was brilliant.

Time flew, the “brilliance” would shift to something more maturely sophisticated like the voice of his favorite singer, or a favorite track that would engage him into the mood instantly. It was also brilliant. At some points, the list of “brilliance” was temporarily forgotten, until the depression came to say hello, when he coincidentally found the list, dusted and oddly attractive, again. He continued to fill out more things out as he always did.

“A thousand”.
Someone’s voice raised by reading the given note.
The light remained a mild and soothing warmth across the room. The themed tracks were playing harmoniously in the background. There were indeed so many “brilliant things” mentioned that apparently went beyond my capability of memorizing. I witnessed him and the list growing together, getting over the griefs and sorrows.

Number “something” – “Waking up next to somebody”,

Number “another something” – “sex”, everyone laughed so hard. As the list of wonders just kept going on like, until he found his first love. He was so naïve that did not know that love would be attached to for such a long time.

Life is filled with on end struggles, neither is the brilliants things you have. In fact, you have never actually had it since everything is impermanent in its nature. That was what I learned, life is a series of unpredictable changes that require you to adapt to any prices. One day, the knell was sent, unpredictably, the death of his mother, after all the sufferings from an inveterate depression. It’s clear that he genuinely lost something, though, lost will always be refunded with something equal. Death is apparently a not-so-brilliant thing, but there are thousands of others to bring the brilliance back to the soul of yours that has been thought to be seemingly arid. Looking back at the journey you have gone, you would be able to realize that you’re much more resilient and resourceful than you could ever imagine.

People with mental health issues were also portrayed so vividly in this theater show. In Vietnamese context, those such things would not be so considerable in contributing to sustainable well-being, in fact, the attitude toward it would only be ignorant, until something really bad happens: over-stressed, depression, self-harm, even suicides. Not everyone is either able to survive in the battle or aware of such disastrous consequences of mental illnesses.

Many more tracks were played, from the 80s I supposed, of which melodies were lively, there were some kind of chemistry to make everyone dance along with it, but no one did, it was his show anyway. Yet, D himself was dancing the whole time.

As the show ended, the applause went for so long that my palms almost turned red, he was going around introducing the audiences who assisted him during the show. It was one of the most adorable things I had ever seen indeed.

Not until I went outside that I saw a black wall full of posted notes, with people handwriting on them. There was a special list of “Every Brilliant Things” of Saigon, contributed by everyone attended the show. I picked up a green one and wrote “random nods from people :)” (it is another story, until next time!). As I gently pinned it to the wall, I saw myself joyfully surrounded among hundreds of other colorful notes that hold the most brilliant things in the world.

It was really great for a night out!

Theater hangout

Standing in front of me was a gigantic blue gate positioning prominently on a great yellow wall. I made a call to T and I was welcome to one of the most gorgeous safe space of Saigon.

D was standing in the yard, he told me to compose a signature handshake so that we can do some fun things every time we meet.  I chose a very classical one: slapping on the sides, fist cheering and “pshhhh”. We both seemed quite enjoyed.

 Stepping into the house, I could feel an immediate nostalgia burst within. There were walls painted white, with enormous oil color paintings, it had to be the works of her father as a very talented artist, I took a quick guess while observing them. There was a piano neatly positioned at the corner of the room, with three tiny statues of “Chopin”, “Mozart” and “Some-famous-classical-composer-that-I-coincidentally-forgot” on the top of it. In the opposite side of the space was an old vinyl player covered in a fancy glass box. I arrived at the kitchen, where D was sitting brainstorming the names for the house (it was a safe space built by 3-member team and was about to open for locals the following month), M was working on her stuff and Il was cooking vegan dishes. I joined the naming battle.

We had lunch together and continued the naming thing. I came up with “Phù sa”- “Alluvial”, then deliberately misspelled it as”Fuza” in order that the foreigners will not get a tongue-twister pronouncing it. D seemed to be really into it.

We cleaned up and prepared for the “real” theater hangout.

“Get up!” – T said.

“We will do a short warm-up.”

D gathered us in a circle and we did some basic and simple yoga moves. The heat was a little bit intense, I was still having my jacket on, but I was feeling good. After finishing the warm-up, D delegated the moderation to Il, who was then in charge of the remaining parts of the hangout. We started with some mediation, then we went around stared at random people’s eyes to develop mutual connections; and there came the fun <and sweaty> part: we tried to run around the space in the same rhythm, which represented the state of being in harmony of the individuals within a group. We kept running for more than ten minutes and kept “throwing” and “receiving” gratitude in consonant by clapping hands and catching others’ eye contact. I messed up a little bit, but it gradually turned out to be super satisfying, and somewhat even moving to hear the constant and stable beats of hand claps when we were all getting used to the rhythm. Regardless of our differences, in this space, we were there, together, fully exposed, no distinction, no hidden.

We took a short break, sitting in front of the big fan to eliminate the heat out of the sweaty but happy faces. Il brought out two whiteboards and had us to write down our favorite words in our second languages, it did not need to be a meaningful word, it could just be something that is fun to pronounce. I came up with “Impermanence”, “Om” and “Doodlevbloggle”, M chose “Mother Fucker”. We were then asked to create a progress of dance moves based on the feelings we had when we pronounce the words. It was not until I really got to work on it that I realized a beautiful thing: our body has its own language system that connects to our deepest feelings and magically translates them into beautiful and sophisticated movements. In fact, our body does speak, and it speaks the language of our true selves. We came up with a fancy choreography, and for the first time, I had let my body voiced up with honesty. That was the philosophy of dancing – understanding, intertwining with our body and current self.

Il laughed to hard every time we finished our performances, she said it was not she making fun of us, she laughed because we were happy. I wished I could tell her how much I appreciated that.

The hangout ended. I stayed at the place for the rest of the day, chatting and singing, it was so chilled out, I could feel my energy was being charged rapidly that moment.

Before I left, I thanked T for such an awesome time there. Although I postponed some of my tasks that supposed to be done by then, I genuinely treasured the time I had with those wonderful people.